The former South Korean president Park Geun-hye has been sentenced to 24 years in prison for abuse of power and corruption, in a scandal that exposed webs of double-dealing between political leaders and conglomerates, and the power of a Rasputin-like figure at the top of government.
Park, 66, was not present for the ruling on Friday, citing sickness, and has boycotted the proceedings since October. Park has one week to appeal the litany of charges against her that range from corruption to maintaining a blacklist of artists.
Prosecutors had sought a 30-year jail sentence and an £80m fine on charges that also included bribery and coercion. In a rare move, the court in Seoul decided to broadcast her trial live, a move Park objected to.
The court found Park had colluded with her longtime friend Choi Soon-sil to solicit bribes from South Korean conglomerates including Samsung and the retail company Lotte in exchange for policy favours. Prosecutors charged Park with 18 separate crimes and accused her of working with Choi in taking bribes of at least £25m and pressuring companies to fund nonprofits run by Choi’s family. She was also accused of leaking classified information.
Choi, a pastor’s daughter, had no government experience but was described in a US diplomatic cable as having “complete control over Park’s body and soul during her formative years”. Choi’s influence over the president led one opposition lawmaker to describe Park’s government as “a scary theocracy”.
The scandal exposed what has long been widely suspected in South Korea: an entangled web of government and the chaebol – sprawling business conglomerates that dominate the economy. Park’s rise to the presidency in 2013 was seen as a personal redemption 30 years after her father, then the country’s dictator, was assassinated. But while personally damaging to South Korea’s first female leader, the corruption scandal dealt a major blow to conservatives in the following election.